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Robert Houk

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As I See It

Fluoridation: Dumbing us down, or helping teeth?

November 14th, 2011 9:15 am by Robert Houk

I received an email last week that revisits a conspiracy theory that goes back more than 60 years — fluoride in drinking water is bad.
Why it’s bad depends on which conspiracy theory you believe. Some say fluoridation is a corporate plot to control our minds. Others say it is a government plot to control our minds. During the Cold War, it was a communist plot to control our minds. In 1964, filmmaker Stanley Kubrick directed a dark comedy that found one disturbed character declaring fluoridation to be “the most monstrously conceived and dangerous Communist plot” ever hatched.
In that memorable scene from “Dr. Strangelove,” Gen. Jack D. Ripper tells Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake that fluoridation of water first began in 1946.
“A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual. Certainly without any choice. That’s the way your hard-core Commie works.”
And there are some people today who believe fluoridation is bad for your health and mind. I thought the safety of water fluoridation had long been established, but Beverly Pennell of Flowery Branch, Ga., informed me by email Thursday that the “debate is far from over.”
Fluoride, she wrote, is “dumbing us down, and in the end, killing us.”
A chill went down my spine. Dumbing us down? Most of us don’t need any help in that regard.
Pennell provided a number of links to the Fluoride Action Network ( that cites reasons why fluoridation is unhealthy or unnecessary.
A Tri-Cities native, Pennell said she wanted to share her evidence with “my hometown folks in hopes that someone will take the time to thoughtfully review the research, the documentation, the testimonials and the proof.”
Most of the so-called proof she lists is the same unsubstantiated claims opponents of fluoridation have said for years. And Tom Witherspoon, Johnson City’s water and sewer director, has heard them all before.
“Those who are anti-fluoride are hardcore against fluoride,” Witherspoon told me last week.
He said Johnson City was among a number of communities in the United States to begin putting fluoride in the water in the 1960s to help prevent cavities.
The practice has been endorsed by health care professionals, including the American Dental Association and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The idea, however, hasn’t been embraced by every city for many of the reasons cited by Pennell and other anti-fluorides.
For that reason, the debate over fluoridation still comes up from time-to-time. Even so, Witherspoon said most of the city’s water customers are very comfortable with having fluoride on tap. And even though the Environmental Protection Agency now says water utilities no longer need to put in the same level of fluoride as they did decades ago because of advancements in fluoride toothpaste and the like, fluoridation still benefits public health.
“Folks who should know say we should still put fluoride in the water,” Witherspoon said.

Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at

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